Academic journal article Hemispheres

The Arab Uprisings in Historical Perspective

Academic journal article Hemispheres

The Arab Uprisings in Historical Perspective

Article excerpt

Driving forces

The literature points to several factors that triggered these acute social protests. The first was the new communication technologies - mobile phones, the Internet, social networking sites - which aroused public awareness, freed people from the dictates of government propaganda and allowed the protesters to organize properly. Indeed, the Internet had already played an important role in mobilizing people in 2009, in the case of the so-called Green Movement in Iran. Those events were even called the 'Twitter Revolution'. When anti-government protests broke out in 2011 in Egypt, the world called it the 'Facebook Revolution', and a girl bom on President Mubarak's resignation day was named Facebook.* 1

New technologies have helped to share experiences by creating a network of relationships that cross borders. Such effects were usually achieved by the activities of non-govemmental organizations, trade unions and student organizations. The proceedings of Egyptian anti-globalist groups and their cooperation with the Global Justice Movement in 2002-2005 can serve as a good example of this.2 However, the opinions of cyber-enthusiasts met with criticism from cyber-sceptics, who pointed out that the role of the Internet in the events of the Arab Spring was not decisive, and the new communication technologies were also used by the authorities to strengthen authoritarianism, which as a result limited the potential of these technologies for democracy. Indeed, sociological studies have shown that most of the protesting Tunisians and Egyptians did not have access to the Internet, and some of those who did have such access were worried that their blogs and mailboxes could have been monitored by the authorities, and therefore did not use the Internet. Nevertheless, new technologies have had a huge impact on making those events public worldwide, and thus forced the authorities to be more moderate in their use of violence against demonstrators, but the different results of the protests in Iran and Egypt prove that the success or failure of the democratic movement does not depend so much on the scale of the Internet access, as on many other factors.3

The second aspect was the demonstrational effect of what happened in Tunisia. It was the place where protests started and as a result, the omnipotent President Zine el Abidine ben Ali stepped down from office and had to escape abroad. This course of events spoke to the imagination of communities in other countries in the region.4 However, the strength of the demonstrational effect proved to be limited. Access to information about what happened in Tunisia was widespread, thanks to the Internet and other media, but coverage of the protests in each country was different, not to mention the various effects of these protests in each of the countries of the region.5

Moreover, another important factor, common to the entire Middle East, was an inability to meet the vital needs of society. No work, no means of support, increases in food prices, bad governance, corruption, nepotism - these were the driving forces behind the Arab revolutions of 2011.6 On December 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a street vendor selling vegetables in Sidi Bouzid, doused himself with gasoline and set himself on fire to protest against his stall being taken away and being thrown out of the police station where he had been trying to defend his rights. Two days later in the same city, there was another tragedy; 22-year-old Houcine Falhi committed suicide by touching the high voltage cables. As he died, he shouted: "The end of poverty, the end of unemployment".7

However, the most important determinant was breaking the barrier of fear against the all-powerful apparatus of violence at the authoritarian regimes' disposal. In this sense, the situation in Tunisia has had a major impact on societies in other countries. Tunisia has set an example that demonstrators breaking the barrier of fear and protests, without the use of force, can be effective in achieving the desired result. …

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